My dad is in the ICU. And I feel as far away from normal life as I am from my home in Stockholm.

Dad went into the hospital in December for five days and got out on December 21. Then he went back into the hospital again via ambulance on new year’s eve. On Friday January 5 just before six in the morning, we got a call from the hospital asking for permission to do an emergency procedure. That’s when things changed. It turns out that he had a hole in his bladder. The surgery went well and he was initially doing well in recovery. Then he lost responsiveness briefly and he’s been in the ICU ever since. We regularly get told that he is very ill. And we struggle to comprehend when doctors tell us that he might not make it through the night.

Just as we struggle to leave the hospital in the night, staying, watching him breathe, willing him to live. Then we go to bed dreading a phone call. I call the nurse first thing in the morning, hoping that he had a good night, expecting that he did not.

It feels like an eternity. The days both seem endless and also like they pass before I know it. It’s all consuming. And it’s also exhausting. But we keep on going.

Every day is filled with new terminology and hard-to-spell medical terms to decipher and figure out what they mean. Just when we think we are making progress, that he is improving in some way, then we find there are several other issues to deal with. I am in awe of all the tubes, wires and machines that are attached to my Dad to monitor him, to give him medicine, to keep him alive. Yesterday when he was taken for an MRI and CT scan, it took a team of four about 30 minutes to get him ready for transport. The dedication of his doctors, nurses and assistants is amazing.

Because he has multiple infections, we must all put on a mask, gloves and gown before going in to see him. At first, we struggled with figuring out how to get all the gear on. It has quickly become second nature. We still laugh at how we look in our costumes, however. And I am continually and obsessively washing my hands as soon as I strip out of the gear.

There’s no time for any sort of normal life outside of the hospital, to stop for groceries, run errands, put air in the car tire. I long for a workout, cooking a good meal, outings, walks, time with friends.

More than that, I long for my Dad to be off the ventilator, for him to be able to speak to me, for him to be well. I long for the hospital to not be normal life. But we get up, shower, have breakfast and go to the hospital.

We are grateful for the kindness that makes this strange world easier to naviage– the meals, visits, texts and calls. Today we were beyond happy to avoid hospital food thanks to a  pot of chicken soup from my parent’s next-door neighbor. How awesome is that? Because yes, hospital food does suck. And I am astonished by the lack of healthy options in the cafeteria.

Yesterday, my Dad fully opened his eyes for the first time in days. Joy! Today, we hope that he can have the ventilator off so that he can breathe on his own and speak to us. Most of all, we hope.



Stockholm Above/Below My view looking toward the Stockholm Above/Below 8K race.


There is a running race going on in my backyard today. As we live in a city apartment, it’s not really my “backyard” in the true sense of the word, but there is a big park directly behind our building. So I feel like that counts as my backyard.

Born to Run is blaring on the loudspeakers and I am laughing. I’ve been transported to my parent’s living room where I am 12 years old and trying to watch Scooby Doo with my younger brother after school. But we can’t hear a thing because our older brother is upstairs with his stereo playing The Boss with the volume turned all the way to the right. The TV can’t compete with the booming bass of the stereo.

Yelling at Jeff to turn it down does not work as he can’t hear us. Pounding on his door won’t work either because he will happily ignore us, as we experience. So being the younger and thus powerless siblings, we move closer to the TV cabinet to watch Scooby and Shaggy with Bruce Springsteen providing the soundtrack.

Now my Stockholm backyard race is playing Break on Through by the Doors. That song was also played at full volume throughout my childhood, but it could have just as likely been my brother or my Dad playing that. To this day, my 79-year-old father is still likely to turn the volume as high as he can to enjoy the full force of his Bose surround-sound speakers.

But now Bada Nakna (swim naked) by Samir & Viktor is on.


Just like that I am back home in Sweden. Because yes, the song is in Swedish and it is so very Svensk with its catchy tune and lyrics about living life on your own terms. It was also a Eurovision song and there is no way that would have ever been heard in my childhood home.

Nonetheless I am still smiling at the luxury of having two different worlds collide and merge into what is my life now. Anyway it’s sunny and the water is shimmering. That makes up for the fact that it is breezy and 8 degrees C (46F). So I am making like a Swede and have bundled up in layers with a big sweater and a polar fleece blanket wrapped tightly around me to sit on the balcony.

After 13 years in Sweden, I’ve learned that you have to enjoy the gift of “good” weather when you can. Living this far north at this time of year, a day with sunshine feels like a bonus even if it does not exactly qualify as warm in my vision of a perfect world. After about 30 minutes though, there is not enough warmth in the sun to offset the chill in the air that has been transferred from the aluminum of my MacBook Air into my fingers.

Back inside, I am enjoying the sun through the windows. And I’ve found the perfect thing to enjoy with a cup of tea to warm me up: The last packet of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. My mom sends them to me every spring and I hoard them in my freezer to enjoy in moments like these. It’s a wonderful thing to savor the rich layers of  life.

writing life I huddled up on my balcony couch until my fingers were too cold to type anymore.



Being this far north, I don’t get visitors as often as I would like. So when I heard from a friend at 5 pm yesterday that she was going to be in Stockholm overnight due to a flight cancellation, I was thrilled. Sad for her about her botched travel, of course. But happy that this unexpected change in her plans meant that we would get an evening together.

Seamlessly, Elissa joined in on my plans for the night, meeting up for dinner and then dancing with some of my friends here. We chatted like we had seen each other yesterday and not more than a year ago. On the dance floor, it felt like we were back in university together again, releasing all of our energy after a long night of putting together the campus newspaper.

Then we came back to my place and chatted still more in spite of the fact that she had an early morning international flight to catch the that included several stops before she made it home to Cincinnati. As Elissa so perfectly wrote: #sleepwhenyouredead.

It was a perfectly unexpected night. And that made it somehow just perfect.

Stockholm Reunited and it feels so good: Elissa on the dance floor at the Lemon Bar in Stockholm.



holidays Candles on the table at the office Christmas party on Wednesday. All photos by Sandra Carpenter copyright 2016.



Daylight hours are in short supply this time of year and Stockholm undergoes a big change in personality as a result. Even though sunset is just after 2.30, it’s distinctly more cozy these days.  That’s thanks to all the holiday lights and candles. Christmas lights, stars and candleabras start shining in windows everywhere at the end of November. And real candles appear all over the place too–at the reception desk at work,  the gym, the doctor and in restaurants and bars. It all goes a long way toward keeping me happy this time of year.

Talk to me in February and I will be distinctly less happy about the darkness. But for now, I am content. Plus, there are all the holiday parties, Christmas markets, displays and  julbords to check out (see my article about what it’s like to attend a julbord on Slow Travel Stockholm).

I have been running around, getting lots of work done and Christmas shopping. But I am doing my best to try to stop and enjoy it all as much as I can. Because I do think that Stockholm is rather magical right now. I worked my way through the crowds to see the window displays at NK department store, checked out the skaters at Kungsträdgården, walked the red carpet on Biblioteksgatan, went to a few Christmas markets and have had a few glasses of champagne.

It’s all been quite lovely. I hope it is for you, too.

stockholm Ice skating at Kungsträdgården.


christmas in stockholm One of the holiday windows at NK department store.


christmas in stockholm Holiday moose lights at Sergels torg.


christmas in stockholm The lights and red carpet on Biblioteksgatan.



The snow began falling slowly, gently, but consistently in Stockholm on Monday. It was so perfect that at work, we all said it felt like we were living in a snow globe.

And then buckets of snow began dumping down on Tuesday and it carried on through Wednesday. As we came home from an election night party on Tuesday around 4.30 am, the city noise was muffled, peaceful, and a giant polar fleece blanket covered the streets, cars and landscape.

Over the course of 24 hours or so, we got more than 30 centimeters (one foot) of white, fluffy snow. It was up to my knees. I could not open my balcony door more than a nudge as the snow had formed huge, unmovable drifts there.

On Wednesday, all that snow stopped the buses, left people stranded in their cars for hours on the highways and even closed a few schools. Being the hardy Vikings that they are though, people still rode their bikes through it.

For me, it provided a much-needed distraction from the bitter dialogue of the US election.

Snow makes me happy. It always has, dating back to school days when I would eagerly watch and listen for the list of school closings and delays, then let out a whoop of excitement when we got that beloved snow day off.

After the election was called on Wednesday morning, I turned off the TV at last. I worked at home because I did not feel like talking about the election with everyone after getting only an hour or two of sleep. And I got out for a tramp through the giant snow drifts. Walking around in a winter wool coat and knitted hat, I was immediately coated in the wet, white stuff. I quickly realized I had on the wrong winter clothes—I needed the ski gear on.

And I could not help but think of the Swedish expression: “det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder”– there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing– and how much it applied to me in terms of the bad clothing at that moment. But I stayed out anyway, regularly shaking off the snow like a furry dog. I just needed to be out and doing something, trying to make sense out of election results that I did not understand.

Snowed in. No, that’s not a white hat that I am wearing.


I needed comfort food, so I roasted a chicken for dinner. It was just what I needed. I went back into the office the next day, got hugs from coworkers and began digging out what was bothering me.

Basically, I realized that I really wanted a woman to be elected President. I wanted it to make up for all those years of working in the US when it was assumed that my male coworkers were in charge because they were male. Then when it was determined that yes, I was the boss, the next comment would be: look how cute and young you are. How can you be the boss? And for all those other ways that I was made to feel less in my role because I was a woman.

I wanted a woman in the White House for my young nieces. So that they could know that there are no limits to what they can achieve.

But what I wanted did not happen in this election. Even so, I remain hopeful that it will happen. And I hope that all this anger and passion from this divisive election will be channeled in positive ways. (I have friends and family members who voted for both candidates and I am not looking to start a war here, just digest my own feelings.)

I am still admiring the snow. And in a near perfect winter combination, we had some relief from the endless November gray with brilliant sunshine today. It was truly lovely

Apparently, this was a record-setting snowfall. It was rated as Stockholm’s snowiest November day in 111 years. Swedish forecasters described it as a snökanon— lake-effect snow (when a cold air mass moves over a warmer boyd of water). But we just laughingly called it the snow cannon or snowpocalypse.

Thinking back to my favorite childhood show day activities, I think I just may have to build a snowwoman tomorrow. And maybe bake some chocolate chip cookies too.

Life does go on.




Hornstull's Bodega On Sunday, I wrapped up the weekend with a glass of wine and a good chat with a friend.


When you’ve lived in a city for a while, you inevitably find the places that you return to over and over again. They’re the places in your neighborhood with the good service or the cool vibe or the best drinks. And of course, they are easy to get to. For me, that place is Bodega.

Bodega is the wine bar inside of Tjoget in Hornstull and it’s in the same building as Linje 10, which is another local fave for me. The wine bar is tiny and cozy and on a Sunday evening when the weather had turned into chilly autumn, it was not so busy. So it was the perfect place to catch up with a friend and wrap up the weekend.

The bartenders are always good about asking what you are in the mood for and then having you sample a few sips to make sure you get the glass you want. In between the stories and laughter, we talked to the bartender about life, politics, and music. Meanwhile in the background, our bartender’s iPad play list included everything from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan to CSNY and Allah Las.

Perhaps inevitably, we ban talking about play lists. Then we got onto the old school topic of mixed tapes. OK,  I’m showing my age here, but mixed tapes were a great thing. Making a mixed tape (or later a CD) for a party or a road trip or a friend or a guy you liked was such an undertaking as it took a lot of time, especially when you recorded from an album! But making one was always a labor of love, of sorts. And while sharing a Spotify play list is a pretty good thing, it doesn’t have that special cache of creating a “handmade” mix.

Just talking about mixtapes made us all want to make one. But none of us have cassette tapes. Or a cassette player. The details got in the way of our creative burst. But not really. On a  Sunday evening, it just felt good to get a little nostalgic on a Sunday with a glass of wine and a friend and a friendly bartender.


midsommar The clouds at 12.17 in the morning.


midsommar It’s 12.39 am, so it is beginning to get lighter.


Even after living in Stockholm for over 11 years, I am still deeply, totally and completely fascinated by the long days of light this time of year. While the official sunrise is at 3.30 in the morning and sunset is after 10, it does not completely get dark the way it does in winter. The sunlight tends to wake me up around 4 am and that’s when I get up, marvel over the amazing fact that it’s light at 4 am, and then put on my eye shades and go back to sleep with a smile.

This time of year, there’s no place that I would rather be. It’s magical, intoxicating  and impossible to resist.

It’s also hard to describe. So instead, check out the photos with the time added. No filters. Just the light. Are you as enchanted as I am?

midsommar The light at 9.08 pm.


10.25 on midsommar. 10.25 on midsommar.


10.30 pm from the front window. 10.30 pm from the front window.



Stockholm The dessert portion of a Swedish smorgasbord at the Grand Hotel. All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter 2016.


OK, I admit it: I’ve been quiet on the blog lately. I could whine and say life’s been too busy, inspiration has been missing or give some other excuse. While all would be true, writing here just hasn’t been a priority of late. But I have been writing  a lot. In addition to all the writing I do for my “day job”, I’ve also done some cool freelance stuff. Click here to read my latest on Scandinavian Traveler. It’s about digital nomads and I really enjoyed writing this one.

Just before that, I did a fun write up about a new wine hotel here in Stockholm for Hotelier International magazine. There’s an actual functioning winery right in the hotel lobby. Of course, they offer wine tastings and special wine menus. It’s an interesting concept. (Let me know if you want to read the article and I can send you a PDF.)

On top of it all, I performed in another six shows of Wild Minds. This time, we were in Berlin and it was a blast. Next stop will be at Stockholm’s prestigious Dramatic theater at the end of August. That will be a lot of fun, I’m sure. There’s also been some travel in the past few months and in addition to Berlin, I went to Copenhagen, London and Bergen, Norway.

I suppose you could say that I’ve been enjoying the smorgasbord of life.

So there’s a lot to get caught up on. But I will play with that smorgasbord idea and tell you about the Swedish classic smörgåsbord that I went to at the Grand Hotel’s Veranda restaurant. This gorgeous hotel dates back to 1874 and it’s one of those places you go for dinner or drinks when you want to lash out. Of course, if you really want to go all out, you can stay there. We’ve only done so once, but it was a lot of fun.

Anyway, the Swedish smörgåsbord is a buffet-style meal of four to six courses that is really just an excuse to eat a lot, sort of like an American thanksgiving. The word smorgasbord has been adapted into English with the same basic meaning. But the Swedish version has a typical line up of food and being Sweden, there is a typical order that you eat it all in.

Keeping with tradition, we began with the herring dishes. We had them with potatoes boiled in dill. Then it was cheese, crisp bread and snaps. And then it was on to gravlax (marinated salmon), smoked salmon and other cold fish dishes. As you might expect, I was stuffed at this point. Nut I managed to have a few of  the salads, egg dishes and cold cuts.

After a long pause, we then sampled the warm dishes. There was more fish, of course, along with meatballs and Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s temptation) which is a casserole-type dish of layers of  potatoes with anchovies, onions and cream. Then there was the amazing dessert buffet to check out. In spite of being full, I did manage to force myself to try several.

When all was said and done, we ate for hours. It was a lot of fun, especially since it was the King’s 70th birthday and visiting royals from around the world were staying at the hotel. We saw a lot of gowns and tiaras! And anyway, it was good food with good friends. What’s not to like?

smorgasbord A sampling of the fish dishes.


smorgasbord More desserts!


grand hotel Cheers! Skål!


Grand Hotel Checking out just one portion of the buffet.




A taste of Norway

March 3, 2016

in Travels

Bergen As an extra treat for our anniversary, Lysverket served us a buckwheat ice cream and cake.


To celebrate our anniversary last week, we went to dinner at Lysverket. The restaurant in located in the KODE 4 art museum in Bergen and specializes in fresh local seafood and produce.

There’s no doubt that this place is cool. The decor is Scandinavian minimalist and the restaurant turns into a club with local DJs and fancy cocktails after the last dinner serving. Plus, Conde Nast Traveler named it as one of the planet’s essential travel destinations in 2014. Chef Christopher Haatuft is originally from Bergen, but worked at Per Se in New York City, among other places, before opening his restaurant. So Lysverket comes well recommended, to say the least.

Since it was a special occasion, we went full out and chose the seven-course menu. (You can also have four courses.) In addition, we were served a selection of dips with bread and blinis, and Bergen soup.

The official first course from the menu was a scallop with beet salad, umeboshi (pickled ume fruits) and herbs. Up next was grilled mussels with crab salad and mussel broth. Then the third course was the langoustine (Norway lobster), flax seeds, red cabbage and pickled blackberries. Out of everything we had had up till this point, this dish was my favorite.

Course four was a celery root that had been cooked for 12 hours in beef tallow and then served with black garlic, shitake mushroom and barley. By this point, we were both feeling full, so we took a digestive pause and had a glass of Marka, Norwegian bitters.

Then we moved on to the fifth course: cod served with pil pil (a Basque sauce of olive oil, garlic and chili), fried sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke), spinach and tarragon powder. This was also tasty. I could not decide whether it or the mustard-braised pork belly that came next was better. It was served with radicchio rosso and potato. To finish things off, dessert was a dark chocolate mousse with rye and Irish cream. And as an extra touch for our anniversary–as if we could even think about more food–we were given a buckwheat ice cream and cake.

Five hours later, we were finally done. It was a dining tour de force. Overall, the food was amazing and creative. The service was spotty, however. At times the staff was attentive, at times they were missing. In their defense, they were apparently one person short. All in all though, we had a blast and enjoyed sampling that langoustine, in particular.


Lysverket The grilled mussels were served with crab salad. Click on the photo to see it in full. All photos copyright Sandra Carpenter 2016.


Lysverket The langoustine, also known as Norway lobster, was served with red cabbage and pickled blackberries. Delish!


Lysverket The cod was served with a pil pil  sauce, fried sunchoke, spinach and tarragon powder.


Lysverket Dark chocolate mousse with rye and Irish creme.


Lysverket To help digest the meal, we had some Norwegian bitters in between the courses.


Bergen The king crab at the fish market is so fresh, so amazing.

king crab


Hail, snow, sleet, sunshine. Then repeat. Over and over again. That is my best summary of the weather in Bergen, Norway, last weekend. Robert and I went to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary and in spite of the crazy weather that changed every few minutes, we had a blast. Or maybe we had a blast because the weather was so changeable? I can’t really say. It was never boring, that’s for sure.

Given that I live in the relatively flat Stockholm, it was a thrill to see the snow-covered mountains and fjord that surround Bergen. The town itself is quite charming too, and even though it ‘s the second-biggest city in Norway, the population is only 250,000. It has a distinctly different feel from Sweden overall.

I’ve been to Bergen before (Robert actually works there), so I did not feel the need to be a total tourist. Instead, we just kicked back and enjoyed ourselves. We walked a lot and ate well– in particular we had some outstanding seafood. Every cafe in town seems to be able to do a tasty fish soup. We went to a sing-along piano bar and well, sang along, and danced too. And we stayed out way too late both nights.

Bergen Along the waterfront.



Norway Seven mountains surround Bergen. Bergen While it looks like a dusting os snow is on the ground, it’s actually hail.